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Visualizing A Canadian Author Archive: Alice Munro

Research Project led by Murray McGillivray, Michael Ullyot, Jagoda Walny, and Jason Wiens


As noted in the image above, the purpose of visualization in this project was not to create some nice-looking pictures to accompany the research.  The aim was to be collaborators in on the process, to gain a better understanding of the questions the literature experts were trying to solve and then create visualizations to help them in this process.  Ultimately this really proved useful as the size of the metadata being gathered grew quickly; over 60,000 data entries altogether and it became extremely challenging to go through this by hand (and memory).  Consequently, a major goal in the visualization work was to provide a means to help “see” this data in a representation better than a spreadsheet; to help with comparisons, tracking values across stories, and so forth.

The visualization work has produced a variety of visualization outputs so far.  The first is the integration of the spreadsheet metadata into Tableau for mapping the settings and geographic references.  Next is a “pixel-plot” that is designed to allow the research team to quickly provide an overview of the 100+ metadata fields and assist comparisons between drafts.  Building off the pixel-plot the next visualization produced is exploration software that provides a canvas for scholars to organize and compare drafts or correspondence materials.

The extended metadata from the two story collections has been exported into Tableau.  The major purpose of Tableau was to quickly provide a few different charts to explore nature of the metadata as it was being collected.

Tableau was used to map locations as well as explore the types of materials (paper and ink) as well as the number of revisions made across the drafts of the stories.


This map explores the settings of the stories in the Moons of Jupiter Anthology.

This map looks at geographic references across the stories.  Lines indicate where locations were changed between drafts.

Exploring Materials

These two bubble charts are an attempted exploration of the materials (paper type and ink type) used between drafts.  It was hoped that the use of materials might provide clues as to the dates of some of the undated materials.


To help examine Alice Munro's approach to revisions these bar charts  portray the number of revisions across various stories (six stories in this image).  The rows allow comparisons between the numbers of deletions, revisions (by Munro), and outside revisions (e.g., those suggested but correspondents, editors, etc.)

Pixel-Plot Visualization

To provide an overview of the 100+ metadata fields across 5-20 drafts for each story we developed a grid-based visualization to help track the changes in the metadata from draft to draft.  The goal with this visualization is to highlight interesting fields for the humanities researchers to then investigate further.

As shown above the pixel plot attempts to consolidate each 200+ row column of the spreadsheet into a small diagram where differences between columns can be easily identified.  To do this, each column is divided into seven groups of attributes.  Each group forms a row of coloured squares in the plot.  The first group are the rows related to viewpoint and the protagonist (e.g., narrative voice, protagonist name, protagonist occupation).  The second group is for the characters.  As some collections of drafts collected data from almost 20 characters and three attributes for these characters were recorded (name, occupation, and relation to the protagonist) each square was broken into three small rectangles, one for each attribute.  The remaining groups were high cultural references, mass cultural references, geographic references, and the physical properties of each draft/archival item.

The colours of the boxes are determined based on their order of use.  That is, the value used in the first draft that the item of metadata applies to is dark brown.  The value used in the final version, if different from the first, is dark purple.  Then with each draft in between other values are scaled by this two-tone colour ramp in-between these extremes.

Material explorer is software that provides a canvas for researchers to organize and compare drafts.  It employs the pixel-plot visualization and allows the pixel plots for all the different materials to be moved around and compared.  It also allows people to jump  back to the original spreadsheet values in order to look-up the exact values used.

The software also connects directly to google spreadsheets (saving the hassle of emailing excel or csv files).  

This software is incomplete but available on github at  It was developed for Windows using C#.

Screenshot from the material explorer software.

Network diagrams were created to explore stories that co-occurred in correspondence with the same people.  The main aim in these diagrams was to see if they revealed patterns in how stories were chosen to enter each anthology collection.  Node coloration is based on the anthology they ultimately were included within, edges were coloured by the location of the correspondent.

Another product of this project was a proposed visualization for exploring the TEI encoding of drafts.

The concept was that tabs would allow exploration of the different drafts and published text.  Colour coding is used to indicate changes in the text and hoving over the colour coded areas reveals the alternative(s).  Demonstration in the animated GIF below.

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